MCAT Study Guide: Chapter 6

From Chemistry to CARS, the MCAT requires excellent critical reading skills. To improve your ability to read and glean information from a passage, you need to practice. Be critical when you read the content, and watch for  vague areas or holes in the science passages that aren't explained clearly.

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Read Actively

Take control of the passage. Don’t let the passage control you.

  • Highlight key words and phrases.
  • Link and predict major themes.
  • Take notes on your scratch paper.
  • Translate the main idea of each paragraph into your own words.
  • Remember that information about new topics will be woven throughout the passage. You may need to piece together information from several paragraphs and a figure to get the whole picture.
  • For CARS passages, summarize the main point and tone of the whole passage before attacking the questions.

Active Reading with Study Groups

If you have a study group you are working with, take turns asking and answering the questions below. Having to explain something to someone else not only solidifies your own knowledge, but helps you see where you might be weak.

  • What was this passage about? What was the conclusion or main point?
  • Was there a paragraph that was mostly background?
  • What information was found in each paragraph? Why was that paragraph there?
  • What extra information could I have pulled out of the passage? What inferences or conclusions could I make?
  • If something unique was explained or mentioned, what might be its purpose?
  • Were there any comparisons in the passage?
  • Were there paragraphs or figures that seemed useless (science passages only)?
  • Are there any holes in the story (science passages only)?
  • What am I not being told (science passages only)?
  • Can I summarize the purpose and/or results of the experiment in a few sentences (science passages only)?

Outside Reading for CARS

Feeling nervous about what you might encounter in the CARS section? Some students don’t have as much experience reading texts from the social sciences and humanities. Try active reading and annotation with some of the sources below. Make sure to choose articles that are written at a fairly high level (that is, not a simple news article or movie review).


  • The New Yorker
  • Atlantic Monthly
  • The Economist
  • The American Scholar
  • Legal Affairs
  • Harper’s
  • Foreign Affairs


  • Welleck, Rene and Warren, Austin (1955), Theory of Literature
  • Campbell, Joseph (1949), The Hero with a Thousand Faces
  • Durant, Will (1935), The Story of Civilization
  • Lakoff, George and Johnson, Mark (1980), Metaphors We Live By
  • Panofsky, Erwin (1955), Meaning in the Visual Arts
  • Bronowski, Jacob (1962), The Western Intellectual Tradition
  • Sontag, Susan (1983), A Susan Sontag Reader
  • Stanovich, Keith (2009), How to Think Straight About Psychology

Online Sources

If you find that you have more difficulty doing passages online than on paper, make sure to do as much of your outside reading as possible online. Many of the periodicals listed allow some degree of free online access. There are also two websites that provide non-copyright material for free:

Make sure to choose non-fiction texts that are at a fairly high level of difficulty (that is, at MCAT CARS level). Here are some appropriate texts that will give you practice with reading challenging passage material on a computer screen:

  • Plato, The Republic
  • Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil
  • Henry David Thoreau, Walden
  • Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
  • Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus
  • Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations

Want more reading prep? Our online MCAT CARS prep course helps you sharpen your reading comprehension skills and raise your score.

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